Our Top 4 Contract Attorney Fails: We air our dirty laundry to help keep yours clean


57% of law firms report using contract attorneys and 1 in 5 jobs in America is held by a contract worker. From the top Strategic Pricing Directors in BigLaw to savvy solos with a niche market, those who want a competitive edge are engaging contract attorneys and paralegals. But, as we’ve learned in our 8 years of legal staffing, not employing a few basic project management techniques can take a great solution from saving grace to nightmare in very little time.

Here are a few of the top contract relationship fails we’ve seen—and our lessons learned so that you can avoid being one of them.

Fail #1: Ready, Fire, Aim


A small law firm desperately needed a motion prepared yesterday. Their associates were beyond capacity and this deadline had slipped through the cracks until today, which was well, the deadline. They posted a job on Hire an Esquire and found someone within minutes— who then turned the memo around within a few hours. The good news: deadline met, work product excellent. The bad news? No hourly rate was agreed upon prior to the start of the work— and (ahem) neither party formally extended nor accepted a job via our platform before the work began, which would have prevented this issue. The attorney who prepared the motion expected $105/hour while the law firm was only prepared to pay $45/hour. What should have been a mutually accomplished feat of lawyer strength became a sour relationship.

Hot Tip #1: Never start work until all have agreed to payment terms

Fail #2: Indistinct Scope of Work


A boutique firm needs an attorney to draft a memo on a topic beyond their expertise. The firm and attorney agree on the topic and goal of the memo, but not expectations around execution and other background details. The firm thinks this work should take 3 hours max, but does not communicate this to the attorney. The attorney spends 4-5 hours researching, and another 2 hours drafting the memo. Because the hand-off was not clean and clear, the memo requires further editing and research by the firm. Neither is pleased with the amount being paid/received, and they are both frustrated with the end product.

Hot Tip #2: Clearly define the scope of work in advance. Let the contractor know exactly what a finished product should look like and include, and let them know how many hours you expect it to take. This will empower the contractor to alert you PRIOR to going over time/budget and let you work it out amicably while there is still time/budget to come to a resolution.

Fail #3: Set it and Forget It


A mid-sized firm needs an attorney to prepare and file a motion. It’s drafted to everyone’s satisfaction. But, the firm gets caught up in other cases and forgets to give the filing details to the attorney—until 3 hours before the deadline. Everyone panics and resentments ensue.

Hot Tip #3: Regular check-ins, whether by phone or email for ongoing projects, help both parties identify a potential issue before it happens, especially for remote engagements.

Fail #4: Not Following the Golden Rule


A small firm connects with an attorney through Hire an Esquire and asks the attorney to violate the Terms of Service. If the attorney will accept payment directly from the firm, they will pay a slightly higher rate for the risk.

Payments to the attorney begin to take longer and require more follow up as the relationship progresses. The attorney is owed more than $2,000 when the attorney becomes crucial to an intensifying case — and is expected to work increasing hours. The attorney states that payment will have to be made for work to continue and the firm responds that their finances require the attorney to wait longer for payment. Additionally, if the attorney quits now, the client will be irreparably damaged, putting the attorney in between a rock and an ethics violation.

Hot Tip #4: If a firm is being unethical and stealing services from a vendor, don’t be surprised if they’re equally unethical with you. Hire an Esquire has been designed and iterated over the years to protect both sides of our marketplace (and ensure contractors get paid!) at a very reasonable price so that law practice budget goes into paychecks, not staffing overhead— and our business depends on people paying for the services they use, just like law firms, freelance practices, and every other business.